BODHISATTVA (Pali: Bodhisatta) is a being who aspires for Bodhi or Enlightenment. The concept of bodhisattva (meaning Buddha-to-be) is one of the most important concepts in Bu…ddhism. Etymologically the term can be separated into two parts, bodhi and sattva : bodhi from the root budh, to be awake, means 'awakening' or 'enlightenment' and ' sattva' derived from sant, the present participle of the root as, 'to be', means 'a being' or, literally, 'one who is', 'a sentient being.' Hence, the term is taken to mean 'one whose essence is Enlightenment' or 'enlightened knowledge'. By implication it means a seeker after enlightenment, a Buddha-to-be. There is also a suggestion that the Pali term may be derived from bodhi and satta, (Skt. sakta from sanj ) 'one who is attached to or desires to gain enlightenment.' In original Pali Buddhism, the term bodhisatta is used more or less exclusively to designate Gautama Buddha prior to his enlightenment. The Bodhisattva Concept [Contents] The concept of bodhisattva, along with that of Buddha and of the cakravartin (world-ruler), was in vogue in India even before the appearance of Gautama Buddha. When Prince Siddhartha, who later became Gautama Buddha, took conception in the womb of Queen Maya, a seer predicted that Suddhodana's future son would be either a world-ruler ( cakravartin ) or a Buddha. Once, answering a question by a Brahmin, the Buddha himself admitted that he is neither a god nor a yakkha , but a Buddha, meaning thereby one of a succession of Buddhas (A. II, p. 38). The well-known Pali stanza sabbapapassa akaranam kusalassa upasampada, sacittapariyodapanam etam buddhana sasanam -- (Dhp. stz. 183; Nett. p. 43).
states that the teaching it contains is not of a single Buddha but of all the Buddhas. The Amagandha Sutta is similarly recorded as a discourse not of Gautama Buddha but of a past Buddha named Kassapa (Sn. vv. 239 ff.). Sammasambodhi or Perfect Enlightenment is an impersonal universal phenomenon occurring in a particular context both in time and in space and a Buddha is thus a person who re-discovers the Dhamma, which had become lost to the world and proclaims it anew (Pug. p. 29). When Gautama Buddha appeared, however, he himself as well as others used the term bodhisattva to indicate his career from the time of his renunciation up to the time of his enlightenment. Later, its use was extended to denote the period from Gautama's conception to the enlightenment and, thereafter, to all the Buddhas from their conception to Buddhahood. By applying the doctrine of karma and of rebirth, which had general acceptance even in pre-Buddhist India, the use of the term was further extended to refer to the past lives not only of Gautama Buddha, but also of those rare beings who aspire for Perfect Enlightenment. The oldest Theravada tradition, as contained, for example, in the Mahapadana Suttanta (D. ii, p. 1) gives details of six Buddhas prior to Gautama. This discourse is attributed to the Buddha himself, who gives the time, caste, family, length of life etc. of these predecessors of his. In the Buddhavamsa, a later work belonging to the Khuddaka Nikaya, the number increases to twenty-five with Gautama Buddha as the last and this number remains fixed in Theravada tradition. However, these enumerations by no means imply that they are exhaustive. In the Mahapadana Suttanta the Buddha starts the story of the six Buddhas merely by saying that ninety-one kappas ago there was such and such a Buddha, implying thereby that such beings were not limited in number. From this it follows that, if the Buddhas are innumerable, the bodhisattvas too must be innumerable. When prince Siddhartha attained Enlightenment he did so as a human being and lived and passed away as such. As mentioned earlier, he himself admitted that he was a Buddha and not a deva or any such supernatural being. He was only the discoverer of a lost teaching. His greatness was that he found out what his contemporaries could not discover at all or discovered only incompletely. He was a genius by birth who achieved the highest state possible for man. Both intellectually and morally he was a great man, a superman ( mahapurisa ). In all the stages of his life, from conception onwards, something extraordinary was seen in him. ( Full Answer )